Houtman Abrolhos Islands ecotourism opportunity still stands, Edith Cowan University professor Ross Dowling tells Geraldton tourism summit

Zoe KeenanGeraldton Guardian

A professor of tourism said there were opportunities to send small cruise expeditions to the Houtman Abrolhos Islands and to build environmentally friendly accommodation on the islands.

Edith Cowan University Professor Ross Dowling carried out research about 20 years ago to develop tourism on the Abrolhos Islands.

“Originally in a plan 20 years ago we suggested a moored boat accommodation facility that stays at the islands for a season,” Professor Dowling said.

“We also said there could be a couple of shore-based facilities, fitting up to 40 people, which were environmentally sensitive, state-of-the-art facilities.

“I would say 20 years later that’s still my best advice.”

Professor Dowling presented his case at the Tourism Investment Summit last week and said while he believed the islands could stand land-based accommodation, things should be taken step by step.

“Start with a few environmentally friendly small cruise expeditions out there, establish tourism infrastructure like jetties and boardwalks and then let’s build,” he said.

City of Greater Geraldton councillor Victor Tanti said he was disappointed Professor Dowling was the only speaker to say environmentally focused accommodation was needed on the Abrolhos.

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“The other speakers either said nothing or that it will take ‘more time and study’ but, given a 1992 State Government report was one of several to recommend mainstream tourism, how much more time and study is needed?” Cr Tanti said.

“Surely, if we want successful tourism on the Abrolhos, there should be an ability to actually stay in accommodation similar to that at Monkey Mia and the Great Barrier Reef.”

Cr Tanti said he disagreed with Geraldton Air Charters chief pilot and managing director Wendy Mann, who said that going to the Abrolhos islands was affordable.

“Wendy Mann is a remarkable woman who I greatly respect but I know what it costs to fly there for even a half-day trip and boat charters aren’t cheap either,” he said.

“The Abrolhos are a jewel easily accessible to a select and often wealthy few but denied to most Australians.”

Cr Tanti said there was tourism on the Abrolhos with boats and yachts coming from Perth but that was unregulated tourism.

“This unofficial tourism is unregulated and no one really knows if they are fishing or camping illegally, breaking into fishermen’s shacks, dumping rubbish overboard, have proper toilets and so on.”

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